Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup watch: Much ado about nothing

As the world prepared to throw up its arms in despair at the lack of excitement so far at the World Cup, the cavalry appears to have arrived mounted on the back of the second round of group games.

After just 25 goals were scored in the first 16 matches (1.56 goals per game), there have since been 13 in four, with emphatic wins for Uruguay and Argentina, an upset (or not, depending on your view) between Mexico and France and the first victory from a goal down for Greece against 10-man Nigeria. We've had a first strike from outside the box (with the help of a wee deflection), a first hat-trick, and even the first goal direct from a free-kick (let's not quibble about whether it was actually a shot, hey).

It's easy to see why caution was the watchword of the early matches. Only one team managed to win without keeping a clean sheet (Brazil, who conceded late against North Korea) and with the profusion of data and tactical information in today's game, many chose to set themselves up in a way that negated their opponent's strengths rather than attacked their weaknesses.

It's when systems break down - or when they're broken by a piece of individual brilliance - that football gets interesting; when football becomes "chaos" as Danny Baker, a bright and breezy (should that be windy?) presence in the BBC studio after last night's France game, had it. For now acts of klutz have outweighed those of genius, but still we remain expectant.

That said, there were still plenty of enthralling games in the first week. I missed Germany's demolition of Australia but enjoyed Holland's win over Denmark (particularly after the introduction of Eljero Elia, one of the few instances of pace being deployed to good effect in the final third), Argentina's shaky 1-0 smashing of Nigeria (not to mention yesterday's performance) and even the muscular nil-nil between Ivory Coast and Portugal.

As Rob Smyth wrote the other day in his build-up to another momentous 1-0, World Cups are "approximately one parts group stage, four parts knockout stages, so there's no need to worry yet". Prezactly.

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